Thursday, May 14, 2009

Instant Classic

I'm a day late with this one, so please forgive me, but considering that Wednesday's game ended in a rather annoying and typically Metsian fashion and I was in attendance for Tuesday's scintillating affair, I'm going to write about that game instead of yesterday's.

Earlier in the week, I talked about how this was the 2nd year in a row I went to a Mets/Braves game that featured a Mike Pelfrey/Jair Jurrjens pitching matchup. Last year, the game didn't turn out so well and it took its toll on me in a rather frightening manner. And for about 8 innings on Tuesday night, it looked like things were heading down a similar path.

Things started off well enough, I'd say. Pelfrey came out throwing darts. He didn't have that great bowling ball sinker working, so he wasn't getting so many ground balls, but he started off by striking out the first two batters after not striking out anyone in his last 2 starts. After a couple of not-so-sharp outings and then a pair of decent ones, this was the first time this season where Pelfrey looked like the Pelfrey of June-July-August of last season. He was popping every pitch where he wanted it, being economical, not overpowering, but getting every out when he needed to.

Unfortunately, his defense failed to cooperate in the 4th inning.

It seems to be a frustrating pattern that the Mets have fallen into, that they somehow manage to blow routine plays at the most inopportune moments. This time, it was Garrett Anderson's popup, that fell into a Bermuda triangle between Reyes, Cora and Beltran. The play was probably Beltran's. But he was playing rather deep, which was strange because Anderson doesn't really have that kind of pop anymore, and the result was that instead of Atlanta having 1 on and 2 out, they had 2 on and 1 out, and one out later, it was another sinking liner by Casey Kotchman that Beltran dove for and was only able to trap that allowed the Braves to score the 1st run of the game.

On the other side, Jair Jurrjens was basically shutting the Mets down completely. He wasn't totally dominant, but he was pretty damn good, and the Mets helped him out an awful lot with some pretty putrid baserunning. Wright got thrown out on a close play while stealing 2nd in the 2nd inning. In the 4th, Alex Cora for some bizarre reason decided to hold up between 1st and 2nd on Daniel Murphy's single to left and got thrown out for a rally-killing fielder's choice. In the 7th, Wright tripled and was tagging up when Fernando Tatis swung at a sucker pitch from Jurrjens and hit a shallow fly to Left. Wright was thrown out with relative ease at the plate. But for the most part, it was Jurrjens just looking sharp and getting people out by any means necessary. Atlanta scored again in the 6th and added a tack-on run off of Putz in the 8th, and the way I saw it, the game was toast. This was going to be another one of those "Why did I bother coming to this game?" games where I start to feel nauseous and end up going into some sort of Panic Attack on the train going home. To that point, the most memorable things about the game were the killer Sausage and Peppers sandwich I ate before the game started, and the streaker that ran onto the field in the 5th and slid into 2nd base. That was it for excitement on this particular night.

But something funny happened in the 8th: The Mets woke up.

I had been saying most of the latter part of the game that the only way the Mets were going to come back is if they could get Jurrjens out of the game. He was making the Mets look silly. But, quietly, Jeremy Reed led off the 8th with a single, and one out later Ryan Church snuck one just barely in front of Garret Anderson for another hit, and now the tying run was at the plate in Jose Reyes. I figured Reyes was going to be swinging out of his shoes in this particular spot. He wasn't going to hit one out. The wind was blowing in, and relatively hard. But he surprised me by hitting a ball in the gap in left field that kept carrying and carrying and eventually fell in by the Warning track. Finally, some life! Reed and Church both scored, but Reyes managed to screw up the goodwill he'd just created by stupidly keeping his jets running around 2nd, and was thrown out at 3rd by half a mile. Ugh! I went on a small tirade about Reyes after that. We all love Reyes, he's a great player, but, man, sometimes he's such a moron. The play was in front of him, at least pick up the ball or a coach or something, don't just blindly run into the tag. Reyes got booed off the field, and after an idiot move like that, he probably deserved it. The upshot of it was that Jurrjens was finally out of the game, now with a 3-2 lead.

Rodriguez came on for the 9th and got through with relative ease. Mike Gonzalez came on for Atlanta. I mused as to whether or not he was actually any good. My friend answered that he was good, just erratic. And you never knew which one would show up. Fortunately, it was the erratic one on this night. Beltran led off, and lately he's inspired enough confidence that you knew he was going to do something. And do something he did, leading off with a double. Wright, who still looks screwed up at the plate, popped out. With Beltran on 2nd and now 1 out, I was pretty sure he was going to try to steal 3rd. I mentioned it to my friend. Gonzalez and Kelly Johnson were trying to keep him close, but he took off on the 0-1 pitch to Tatis and was safe on what was a bit of a controversial call. Not that I could see from where I was sitting, but he looked pretty safe to me. No matter. I've seen this situation before, and given that the Mets seemed to have been playing with their heads up their asses most of the night, the end seemed somewhat predictable. Tatis remained at the plate with an 0-2 count. But instead of that strikeout, Gonzalez came inside and drilled Tatis on the leg. Given new life, Castillo emerged to bat for Jeremy Reed, batting from the right side, his "power" side. Certainly, Castillo wasn't going to drill a Game-Winning HR. The squeeze, my friend surmised, was the strategy behind this. Not a bad idea, but rather than bunting, Castillo drove a pitch to left, just well-hit enough to allow Beltran to score the tying run without a throw.

Somehow, the Mets had managed to squeeze out 3 runs and tie this stupid game. Of course, Gonzalez picked off Tatis for the 3rd out, and so, onto the 10th inning we went. I've talked at length about how I seem to have this annoying habit of attending these ridiculously extended extra-inning games, and here we went again. After the first 8 innings breezed by in barely 2 hours, now, here we were, going to extra innings. Fortunately, it was barely 10pm. Nonetheless, I was kind of tired and had to be up early Wednesday, so I was hoping this would be done quick. I was in no mood to sit around for 14 innings, and Lord knows I wasn't about to leave early. The game probably could have gone 25 innings and I would have stuck around.

Rodriguez came out for a second inning and was accompanied by a host of fun changes on defense. With Murphy and Reed out of the game, Alex Cora moved from 2nd base to 1st base. Castillo remained in the game at 2nd. Fernando Tatis, the starter at 1st base, moved out to Left Field. Ryan Church, who came in the game 2 innings earlier, was now in Right. Got that? Good. Rodriguez made the 10th somewhat hairy when Larry singled and stole 2nd base. Brian McCann was intentionally walked, and again, disaster seemed imminent. Rodriguez hadn't gone more than an inning in 2 seasons, and the situation seemed ripe for Casey Kotchman to hit some stupid blooper that fell in between 3 guys and allowed the lead run to score. But that didn't happen. Reaching back for something extra, Rodriguez got Kotchman and Francoeur to hit lazy fly outs on the first pitch. That's getting out of a jam.

Jeff Bennett, on for the Braves, appeared to have no such trouble in the last of the 10th, getting Santos and Church with relative ease. 14 innings, here we come. Reyes followed, and hit a slow roller out to 2nd base. Kelly Johnson fielded it, but had no play and Reyes was aboard. Cora followed, and we figured it was only a matter of time before Reyes tried to steal, which he did successfully, prompting an intentional pass to Cora. Ramon Castro followed, batting for Rodriguez. All of a sudden, the crowd was re-energized, hoping for that winning hit. It wouldn't come from Castro, as now Bennett seemed unable to throw a strike. He fell behind 3-0 on Castro before walking him. Beltran followed, and somehow, you knew he was going to come through. Every time I'd seem Beltran get that walk-off hit flashed through my mind. Reyes was dashing back and forth at 3rd. Bennett fell behind 2-0. Got a strike. Ball 3. Strike 2. One more time, Bennett threw, low and outside, and that would be that. The Mets, for once, somehow snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat, winning a game that they really had no good reason to have won.

Not that I'm complaining. My Citi Field record, which an hour earlier had appeared destined to slip to 1-3 was now 2-2, and I'd witnessed my first Citi Field Instant Classic. Can't call this a Lost Classic just yet, the last time I did that, the game somehow found itself on heavy rotation on SNY within a month. I have the feeling this will end up being one of those games as well, so let's call it an Instant Classic for now. If, in a few years, this game is lost in the annals of time, then, we can call it a Lost Classic.

So, let's remember this game instead of Wednesday's game, which appeared to be a reversal of fortunes for the Mets, and look forward to this always entertaining West Coast swing, where the Mets will face the Giants who can pitch but not hit and the Dodgers, who can hit but not pitch.

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